1. Home
  2. Asia
  3. Afghanistan

Human rights under pressure

Women and children are widely impacted by the conflict in Afghanistan
Women and children are widely impacted by the conflict in Afghanistan. (Khaled Nahiz/IRIN )

Afghanistan’s hard-won post-Taliban human rights achievements are being eroded due to the persistent immunity from prosecution of powerful figures, the intensifying conflict, and the adoption of laws which undermine justice and human rights, a UN official warns.

Norah Niland, the outgoing representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Afghanistan, called on the Afghan government to repeal a controversial law which gives blanket immunity to perpetrators of mass atrocities committed over the past three decades.

“This law greenlights [criminal] impunity,” Niland told reporters in Kabul on 25 March, adding that the law inhibited effective implementation of a transitional justice plan in the country the deadline for which expired in March 2009.

The so-called National Reconciliation, General Amnesty and Stability Law, popularly known as the amnesty law, was ratified by two-thirds of the Afghan parliament in 2007 but has recently been exposed to public scrutiny.

Article 3 of the law grants unconditional immunity from prosecution to all belligerent parties and individuals involved in fighting between 1979 and 2002.

Niland said the country would not be able to shed its fractured past and achieve viable peace without bringing perpetrators of egregious human rights violations to justice.

“The past must not continue,” she said.

The Afghan government rejects the criticisms, believing that the amnesty law will help foster national reconciliation and stability.

Women’s rights

In addition, women’s rights are frequently trampled in Afghanistan.

A December 2009 OHCHR report presented at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2010 details a number of setbacks.

The Shia Personal Status Law - promulgated by President Hamid Karzai in July 2009 - has been described as a law which “legitimizes discriminatory practices against women”.

“It [the law] paves the way for further restrictions on the rights of all Afghan women, and jeopardizes hard-won gains in the context of efforts to counter violence and discrimination against Afghan women,” said the report.

President Karzai has defended the law, saying it reflects the sentiments of most of the Shia minority which makes up 15-20 percent of the population.

Intensified conflict

Meanwhile, the OHCHR, which operates under the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and monitors the impact of war on civilians, has warned about the increasing number of civilian casualties over the past three years.

Over 2,400 civilians lost their lives as a result of armed violence in 2009.

UNAMA recorded 385 civilian deaths in January and February 2010 - a roughly 30 percent increase on the same period last year.

It also attributed 55 percent of the total civilian deaths in the first two months of this year to anti-government elements and 39 percent to pro-government Afghan and foreign forces.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help make quality journalism about crises possible

The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.


Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story. 


We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises. Become a member of The New Humanitarian today

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.